Freese keeps himself ready for anything
BRADENTON, Fla. — Three weeks was almost too short. Seven weeks is too long.
The proper length for spring training, David Freese believes, is somewhere in between.
“I've gone through enough springs, I know where I need to be mentally to be ready for the year,” Freese said Friday. “You don't need six weeks. That's for sure. It's nice being around the guys and all that, but as far as doing the work you need, six weks is kind of unnecessary.”
To accommodate the World Baseball Classic, big league camps this year were expanded from six to seven weeks. Two weeks of workouts remain before the start of the 162-game regular season.
“I know it's only one extra week, but it's a lot, especially when you understand what's ahead of you,” Freese said.
Realizing how it sounds to gripe about getting bonus time in the Florida sunshine, Freese paused, then poked fun at himself.
“Well, you know ...” Freese said. “What can you do? Just go out and do your job.”
Last year, Freese showed he can succeed despite an abbreviated spring training. He signed with the Pirates on March 11 and got in his first game March 19.
Fifteen days later, Freese got two hits on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Everyone talks about opening day, but it's about how do you feel after that,” Freese said. “It's more about being able to play consecutively. It's about the conditioning, endurance and what your body can handle.”
Freese started 25 of the Pirates' first 28 games last season. He wound up playing in 141 games — the second highest tally of his career — and batted .270 with a .764 OPS.
Although Freese enjoyed his shortened spring, he admitted wishing he had a few more live at-bats before opening day.
“I think if it had been maybe a week longer, that would've been perfect,” Freese said.
This spring, Pirates management is wondering of how much — or how little — preseason practice will be enough for Jung Ho Kang.
The third baseman is stuck in Seoul, South Korea, trying to secure a work visa. The process is being slowed by Kang's recent conviction for driving under the influence and subsequent suspended jail term.
“We're running out of time for him to be ready to go on opening day,” general manager Neal Huntington told ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast earlier this week.
While working with the Korean team in the WBC, Pirates athletic training coordinator Bryan Housand checked in with Kang. Per Huntington, Housand reported Kang was physically “in good condition to very good condition.”
That's encouraging but not ideal. Huntington said Freese was in “exceptional condition” when he joined the Pirates last spring.
After the 2015 season, Freese trained at home in St. Louis with his former junior college coach, Tony Dattoli. When it got to February and Freese still hadn't received a contract, he ramped up his workouts to simulate spring training.
“I was on my feet a lot,” Freese said. “On a typical day in camp, you're on your feet for about three hours, so I'd hit, take grounders, take a break and run around. It wasn't the typical December-ish hit-run-get-out-of-there workout. I extended the time I was on my feet and moving around, so I would fatigue out.”
The extra work put Freese where he needed to be physically when he reported to the Pirates. He even was able to get acclimated at first base, which at the time was essentially a foreign position for him.
“That might be the quickest I've seen a guy go over there and look like he'd played a lot of first base when in reality he had minimal experience,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “First-step quickness. Anticipation. He'll leave his feet and go horizontal for a ball at the drop of a hat. He's fun to watch.”
With Kang out, Freese will be the every day third baseman for at least the first couple weeks of the season. He's taken the same approach to his spring training routine.
“I'm not going to assume anything,” Freese said. “(Kang's absence) really hasn't changed much for me. I'd be on the same schedule, even if Kang was here.”